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MAC's Move May Close Door To College Sports In 2020

Dinur via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s been nearly 20 years since Sean Frazier was a linebacker at Alabama that he’s done anything heroic on a football field. But when the history of how sports were conducted in 2020 is written, Frazier may stand taller than anyone else.

Frazier, who is the athletic director at Northern Illinois, could emerge from this year as one of the first people to attempt to interject reason and sensibility into a time where few of those qualities exist, at least where athletics stand.

It was Frazier, and Lisa Freeman, the president of Northern Illinois, who prodded officials of the Mid-America Conference, the league that NIU belongs to, to cancel all fall sports this year, including football, out of coronavirus concerns. 


Frazier later told Sports Illustrated that his urging Freeman and other league leaders was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, but ultimately the proper choice. 

Said Frazier: “If it saves us one player’s life, one heart, one long-term health complication, it’s worth it I’m not a doctor. I’m a former football player and coach, and I’m in charge of safeguarding our kids. I’m doing everything I can in that regard."

All over the world of sports, from the professional realm to the colleges, so-called leaders are contorting themselves and, in some cases, logic, to find a way to play games in the midst of a pandemic that has affected more than 5 million Americans and claimed more than 160-thousand lives.

Though college conferences with smaller profiles like the MAC have pulled the plug on competition this fall, and a number of schools have elected to keep students off campus with remote learning, the bigger leagues are doing all they can to keep the games rolling on some level.

The Southeastern, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences, arguably the three behemoths of college sports, have scaled back original plans to attempt a full football schedule, electing to play only league games.   

There’s not a single person that loves sports and has missed real, live competition during the spring and early summer who doesn’t want all the games to return. You can only see reruns of old games for so long.

The student-athletes surely want to play. Some have professional aspirations, while others will never compete in an organized setting again once they’re done with college. But they all yearn to compete and now.

And you can’t ignore the money. There are literally billions at stake in any season of competition. 

For example, the Big Ten’s decision to junk non-conference football games cost MAC schools an estimated $11 million in guarantees, dollars that can make a real difference in whether an athletic department is solvent or is in the hole. 

And yet, for Sean Frazier, and others like him, the path forward, for now, is obvious.

Said Frazier: "We had to make a decision to protect lives, but I also had to take something away from our young men. I had to step up and do what’s right, even if it hurt."

He can’t and shouldn’t be the only one.

And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.


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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.